After my last post, you may be wondering, as I did for a long time, why Bruce Sterling, ostensibly a sci-fi writer, is now a design professor. Apparently Bruce has put some thought into this question as well and answers it in a 4000-word article (that link is to his blog excerpt, but barring link rust the entire article is currently available as a PDF) for Innovation magazine.
If you haven’t kept up with Sterling’s blobject futurism, this is as good a primer as any. What’s most interesting to me, as a sometime computer geek, about this is that Sterling takes the concept of “object-oriented design” from computer science and applies it back to actual objects in the real world. One of the central points of object orientation in programming is that information processing can be though of in terms of the relationships between granular “objects” that contain both data and behavior. That is, a code object is both the data structure for a given piece of information and a collection of all the behaviors, calculations, and outside interactions that information can exhibit or have performed on it. Sterling’s point, I think, is that there no reason the concept of design objects needs to be metaphorical and confined to the sphere of computer science. Blobjects are object-oriented objects in real life. His classic example is the cell phone. While being mostly plastic and electronics, a cell phone actually encapsulates a range of behaviors and interfaces far beyond what will ever be utilized fully by any given user. And we’re not just talking about cell phones being a node on a network. Beyond that there’s a continuum that the cell phone object exists in, from initial design to eventual destruction, and all of that, the entire process, birth to death and everything in between, can be understood as inherent in the blobject. And knowing that, we can design for it, so that not only does the cell phone work, but it also displays quality in a controllable way throughout its entire existence as a blobject. I’m not explaining this very well, so take 20 minutes and read the article.